Interrogating memories of childhood fires.

I have settled upon a term (and possibly a book title) for what I describe doing here, here and here.

The term is “interrogating memory.”

As I write this book (tentative title: Interrogating Memory: How a Love for Film Noir Led Me to Investigate My Own Past), I have spent a great deal of time trying not only to probe my memory and those of surviving friends and relatives, but also to independently verify those memories, those stories I have told and retold myself for years.

Just bear with me while I interrogate some of these memories.

At least four of those memories, which I am having difficulty confirming, involve fires.

Now, I know for a fact that our downstairs playroom caught on fire (on a spring weekend night in 1973?), not long before my sister Mindy moved to the residential school for students with developmental disabilities where she has lived since 1974.

I know this not simply because I lived through it: I was asleep when Mindy was suddenly standing in my doorway (the playroom was directly below her bedroom), I smelled the smoke and felt the heat, I woke my mother (my father was still out…almost certainly playing cards), and then we were standing outside (I think we had our keeshond Luvey at that point, which would definitely make it 1973) watching the firemen at work, and then we tried to get a room at a local motel but they refused us either because they did not take pets or because Mindy unnerved them or both.

I am pretty sure I was in first grade and there was no school the next day, all of which fits with a weekend in the spring of 1973.

I know this also because a few years later, all of the students at Lynnewood Elementary gathered in the auditorium for a fire safety assembly. The fire official who spoke showed a film showing recent local house fires. I was sitting next to my great friend who lived a few houses away from me. At one point, she nudged me, pointed to the screen and whispered, “Matt…that’s your house!”

So…that happened, even if I can find no record of it on Newspapers.com. Besides that lack of contemporaneous documentation, this is unfortunate for another reason: precisely how that fire started remains a mystery, another story I have told myself for years (supposedly, my mother had left a hair dryer—one where you pull the heating unit down over your head—turned on in that playroom, expecting my father to turn it off when he came home, which he did not do until the wee hours of the morning, by which time it had—what?—overheated and caught fire?—the story has never quite made sense).

Other stories about childhood fires I cannot confirm are:

A fire destroyed all of the adoption records at the agency which arranged my adoption.

Now that I have learned that my adoption was arranged by a private attorney named Herman Modell, this seems extremely unlikely, unless the fire occurred at the Philadelphia offices of Modell, Pincus, Hahn & Reich…or at the offices of the attorney engaged by my genetic parents, whose identity I cannot confirm (though I have a possible suspect). For now, I can find no record of such a fire on Newspapers.com.

It is very possible that I created this memory by conflating other memories, or that my mother was engaging in a bit of…misdirection…to keep me from questioning the story of my adoption too closely. I ascribe no malice to her, only a kind of understandable maternal anxiety at the thought of somehow losing her adopted son.

The original location of my father’s carpet warehouse was destroyed in a fire, and there is reason to believe my father was responsible (the word you want here is “arson”) perhaps in partnership with another male relative.

It is an established fact that John Rhoads Co., founded in 1886, was operated by my father following the death of his father Morris in November 1954 and, especially, his Uncle Jules in November 1958. He operated this business with his mother Rae until her death in January 1972. Through at least March 29, 1972 (the last day on which I can find a newspaper advertisement on Newspapers.com), the business was located at 4157 Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia. By October 31, 1974, John Rhoads Co. had moved to the store I remember playing in as a child (all those rolls of carpet made for excellent climbing and exploring!): 7025 West Chester Pike in Upper Darby, literally steps from the Philadelphia city line. The latter advertisement, which ran at least three other times through the end of 1974, announces that the business was “formerly” at the Lancaster Avenue address, suggesting that the new location opened earlier that year.

John Roads Co. advertisement

I have no memory of when—or why—the business moved locations. It may well have been no more complicated that, after his mother died, he decided to move his business closer to his Havertown home.

A fire of that magnitude, to an established business, should have merited at least some newspaper coverage. It may simply be that Newspapers.com has not yet uploaded the correct issues of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, and I need to do a more thorough search elsewhere.

Fair enough.

I would just note here that the statute of limitations on arson in Pennsylvania is five years.

Nonetheless, the fact that I am not yet able to confirm these two childhood memories/stories of fire had me seriously questioning the most elusive memory of all:

When I was four years, I had a great friend who lived on a nearby street. The street ran up a short incline to a cul-de-sac. His house was on this cul-de-sac, at the top of the hill. One day, he was playing with matches, and he severely injured himself, to a point where I never saw him again.

This tragic cautionary tale has been lurking in the darkest recesses of my memory since I was very young. I don’t know that my mother and I ever spoke about it (other than that one time, obviously), but I would usually think about this story every time I drove by the bottom of that hill.

And I had come to believe that it was more likely than not that, like the tales of burnt adoptions records and arson outlined above, this was a story I had either invented or mis-remembered, or it was a story my mother had told me to keep from playing with fire as a young boy.

For the record, it worked like a charm.

But as I interrogate each of these memories, I decided last night to do a little digging on Newspapers.com, first confirming that name of the street on Google Earth.

Literally, this was the first story that came up on my search, from the Philadelphia Daily News of August 10, 1973 (pg. 7):

Pajama-Burned Youngster Sues

I was stunned as I read the full story (which you can read here), realizing that but for the exact location of the house (I was one house off) and the cause of the fire (father’s cigarette lighter), my memory was remarkably accurate.

The only other mention of Mr. Weisz I can find[1] describes how the boy, now 21, is a paraplegic receiving regular treatment at Mercy Catholic Medical Center, Fitzgerald Division, in Darby, PA. Having been there for 10 months, he had read that his favorite rock band, Boston, was going to give a concert in Philadelphia. Long story short, Sister Mary Antonita Tobin wrote to Electric Factory Concerts, requesting an autographed photo of the band.

The band went Sister Mary one better. On the morning of Saturday, June 27, 1987, band members Brad Delp, Doug Huffman, Jim Masdea, David Sikes and Gary Tihl walked into David Wiesz’s hospital room.

They visited for about 20 minutes before the members of Boston went to visit other patients in the pediatric ward.

Here is what Mr. Weisz had to say about it.

“I never expected this to happen. […] Their music means everything to me because they have integrity and everything they say comes from the heart.”

It is remarkable what you can learn (good and bad) when you interrogate your memory.

Until next time…

[1] DeLeon, Clark, “Rock-and-roll: Something from the heart,” Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), June 30,1987, pg. 2-BJ.

Querying the impossible, just for fun

As I research and write this book, I am taking a deep dive into all manner of personal documents, family books and photographs.

So many photographs…

Here is a photograph I rediscovered that shows my father holding me in his right arm while cupping the chin of my older sister Mindy with his left hand.

Sue Ellen Drive Feb 1967 or October November 1967

The photograph was taken in the driveway of the bi-level house in Havertown (a suburb of Philadelphia) where I lived for the 10+ years of my life.

Before I get to the mathematical impossibility in this photograph, just bear with me while I dwell for a moment on the sartorial elegance of my sister’s high socks and “Madeline” jacket, as well as on the truly excellent shirt my father is wearing. Eat your heart out, Rat Pack. Lou Berger had some style of his own!

My father would be 31 in this picture, and his hair has not yet turned the distinguished silvery-gray I remember. He looks so young and happy…but I digress.

This is a moment where I wished I knew more about cars, because I am curious about the two red cars visible in the background. The red car in the adjacent driveway looks like it could be a convertible, but it is hard to tell.

If any reader can identify the make and model of these cars, please do so in the Comments section below.

Now…if you look carefully at the top of the photograph, my mother (I would know that handwriting anywhere) has helpfully written:

Matt 4 mos.  Mindy 5 ½”

When I first read that annotation, I thought, “Great, this will help me pinpoint fairly precisely when this photograph was taken.”

Until I started doing the math, that is.

This is what I mean:

I was born in late September 1966, and Mindy was born in early March 1962.

I would have been four months old in February 1967.

The problem is that Mindy would have been almost, but not quite five years old, in February 1967…not 5½.

So let’s try it the other way.

Assuming that “5½” means somewhere between 5¼ and 5¾, that would place this scene between June and December 1967. I would have been somewhere between nine and 15 months old during that period of time.

Hmmm.

The fact is, both of the ages written on this photograph cannot be true. Either only one of them is true, or neither of them is true.

The photograph itself yields some clues.

First, look at the tree in the upper left-hand corner of the photograph. It has no leaves, which means that it is sometime in the winter, after the leaves have fallen off all of the trees.

That eliminates the possibility that this photograph was taken between June and, say, October 1967.

Leaving February 1967 and November 1967 as the remaining possibilities, assuming at least one of the annotated ages is correct.

Second, there is the clothing. Putting aside my very cozy looking outerwear (implying colder weather; would you call it a “coverall?”) for a second, while Mindy and my father are both wearing winter coats, my father’s is not buttoned. Neither is he wearing a hat of any kind, although both Mindy and I have our heads covered. And Mindy’s legs are bare except for the high socks.

My dim recollection is that my father, just as I am now, was not particularly bothered by the cold. My wife will shiver and say, “It’s cold,” and I will respond, “I know. It feels good.”

Still, I would argue that the same temperature can feel much warmer as spring approaches (warm by comparison to what you had been feeling) and much colder as winter approaches (colder by comparison to what you had been feeling).

If true, that would seem to eliminate November 1967 as the time this photograph was taken. Even my impervious-to-cold father would likely have had his fairly light overcoat buttoned in November.

Third, there is the fact that my father is holding me. While this is far from conclusive, the fact that I am being held (other than the obvious fact that it would be hard to walk in those bundled-up feet) suggests that I am not yet able to walk, which would be the case if I were four months old.

And if I could at least stand up on my own then, I might not be wearing that particular coverall.

Finally, there is this simple fact: after five or six years of reproductive heartache and the birth of a severely retarded daughter, I was adopted in the late summer/early fall of 1966.

Do you really think my mother would not have known EXACTLY how old I was, especially when it was only a matter of months and days?

The cnclusion, then, is that my age is correct: I am four months old, and it is February 1967. That would fit with the leafless tree and the outerwear. And it is just possible that all snow would have melted by then (or it was not a snowy winter, which it does not appear to have been). The weather for Wednesday, February 15 (sunny, high of 52 degrees) and Thursday, February 16 (light rain, high of 52) is suggestive as well.

If that is the case, then why did my mother record Mindy’s age as “5½?”

I have a possible explanation.

Mindy turned five years old in early March 1967. If this is February 1967, perhaps even late in February 1967, then it is very close to Mindy’s 5th birthday. But my mother has likely been calling Mindy “4½” for six months or so.

Could my mother have simply conflated the impending 5th birthday with the “½” she had been adding for a few months. It would be a little like writing a check in January and getting the year correct while still writing “December.”

As far as I am concerned, then, this evocative photograph of my still-missed father, Mindy and me was taken sometime in February 1967, most likely on the 15th or 16th.

Until next time…

Making personal connections, 60 years later

When I launched this blog last December, I intended it to be a place to disseminate all of the quantitative data analyses I was conducting for my own amusement. Such a repository, I theorized, would force me to write up the results of these analyses into short articles. Short, at least, by peer-reviewed journal standards.

And that is what has happened over my first 30-plus posts, for the most part.

Sometimes, however, data analysis is less about using math to find patterns in quantitative data and more about discerning connections between disparate qualitative data points, as, say, a private investigator might do.

**********

Just bear with me while I review recent history I have detailed in previous posts.

Last month, I began to write a book. This book is ostensibly about why I enjoy and study film noir to the point that I attend a 10-day film noir festival in San Francisco every winter (and am actively in the process of finding a repertory theatre in the Boston area to host a satellite festival in 2018).

My original idea was to follow the path hinted at here: trace the steps in my life, from my first detective stories and some old radio mysteries through a love of the 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan films through college film societies and classes through hours upon hours scouring video rental places and bookstores (used and new) for films and books through becoming associated with the Film Noir Foundation.

At the same time, I was slowly wrapping my mind around the idea of tracing the true circumstances of my conception and in utero adoption (my legal parents, D. Louis and Elaine Berger, brought me home from the hospital when I was four days old). This idea first took tentative root after my legal mother died in March 2004. I had resisted before then out of an unexamined, perhaps misplaced, deference to her discomfort with the idea. When my wife’s and my two daughters were born a year later, I realized they were the first genetic relatives I had known since I left the hospital where I was born.

And whatever story I had told myself (a mix of half-remembered details, conjecture and rumor) about my “true origins,” what I call my “dark past” (from the 1948 film noir The Dark Past, directed by Rudolph Maté), well, it was no longer my story alone.

It was my daughters’ story as well, and to a great extent my wife’s.

I had planned to have all legally-available details by my 50th birthday last September, but the Pennsylvania Division of Vital Records drew a blank. Their form letter did helpfully inform me in which Court my adoption had been “managed,” should I wish to petition them.

It felt like a dead end. Or maybe I wanted it to be a dead end.

Last month, however, my wife shoved me further down the path of origin-story discovery when she ordered us both 23andMe genetic testing kids. She sent back her saliva sample quickly and enthusiastically, while I dragged my heels.

But once I sent back my sample, my personal Rubicon had been crossed.

**********

As I started to write my book, I realized that my adoption story, as I understood it, was a real-life noir tale: unmarried young woman (18?) has adulterous affair with married older (28?) man (her professor? teaching assistant?), becomes pregnant and faces an agonizing pre-Roe-v-Wade decision, following which all records of the adoption are destroyed in a fire.

There are at least two films from the classic noir era—Abandoned (directed by Joseph M. Newman, 1949) and Not Wanted (Elmer Clifton and Ida Lupino, 1949)—that address similar issues.

I remember reading and John Jakes’ The Bastard as a boy because I related to the title, although I suppose few people today use the term “bastard” to refer to a boy born out of wedlock. Photograph from here.

The_Bastard_John_Jakes_novel_1974_first_edition[1]

To help sort out the details of my adoption, I reached out to my 80-year-old aunt, my legal mother’s sole sibling. Besides telling me that she is regularly partnered at bridge with 97-year-old retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, she gave me a key detail I had either never known or had forgotten.

My adoption had not been arranged through an agency, but privately, through a powerful Philadelphia attorney named Herman M. Modell.

I would write an entire post on the fascinating Mr. Modell (whose photo I found here—graduate of Wharton and Harvard Law, early champion of clean water and equitable public school financing as a member of the Pennsylvania State House, Assistant City Solicitor of Philadelphia, country club president when few Jewish men were even allowed into country clubs (let alone in the historically anti-Semitic Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia)—but then why would anyone read my book?

I will, however, share one entertaining coincidence. In 1961, when Modell was concluding his time as Assistant City Solicitor, his supervisor—the City Solicitor—was named David Berger. Five years later, Modell would arrange for another David Berger—though he preferred D. Louis or simply Lou—to adopt a baby boy.

In retrospect, given that my adoption was arranged while my genetic mother was still pregnant with me, I should have realized that it was done so privately. I have found three other documented cases where Modell was the attorney for the adopting parents, and in at least one of those case, the adopters were Jewish. I have also learned that 62% of children adopted privately are placed with the adoptive family when they are newborns or less than one year old.

The question that then began to rattle around in my head like a pinball was this:

How did D. Louis and Elaine Berger ever connect with Herman M. Modell in the first place?

I understand why my legal parents sought to adopt a child in the summer of 1966. After marrying in January 1960,

Elaine Berger suffered two miscarriages and contracted uterine cancer, resulting in a hysterectomy in 1964. Two years earlier, in March 1962, my sister (whose legal guardian I now am) was born after a difficult, 18-hour-long labor (during which her baby girl lost a great deal of oxygen to the brain). Within a few months it was apparent that she was severely mentally retarded (an official diagnosis); she has been institutionalized most of her life.

Still, even after her hysterectomy, Elaine and her husband D. Louis wanted a “healthy” child. And in 1966 Modell arranged for them to have one, sight unseen.

But how did they connect with each other in the first place? I don’t think one simply looked up “private attorney—adoption” in the Yellow Pages in 1966.

My aunt offers a very simple explanation: both the Bergers and the Modells had a cabana in the summer of 1966 at the exclusive Presidential Apartments (where his widowed mother Rae Berger also lived). It was easy for my aunt to envision my “very personable father” playing cards with Modell, perhaps after being introduced by my formidable (though I adored her) Nana Rae. I had always understood her to be the doyenne of a select group of well-off West Philadelphia Jews. Her husband Morris, who died in 1954, had been the Vice President of the congregation at Beth El Synagogue (located at 53rd and Walnut in West Philadelphia until it merged in the late 1960s with Temple Beth Hillel in Wynnewood; a not-quite-13-year-old me would have his Bar Mitzvah there in September 1979).

Here are Rae and Morris Berger in Atlantic City sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s (the zenith of the classic film noir era):

Rae and Morris Berger, Atlantic City, late 1940s early 1950s

And that may well be the truth. My legal father would go to the Presidential pool on summer weekends in 1966, swim, play cards with Modell and others, and…what? Discuss how much he wanted a second, healthy child, now that his wife could no longer bear children? Is that really something a man would have discussed with a relative stranger in the mid 1960s?

Or was it Elaine and Virginia chatting about children (so far as I can tell, the Modells never had children) that spurred the attorney to take action.

By now, my deep dive into the story of my adoption had also become an even deeper dive into the history of my legal family, particularly the black box that was D. Louis Berger’s family (he was noticeably reticent to discuss his family, much less see them).

Here is a photograph of my legal father (sporting the swimming trunks) and me at the Presidential pool, probably in the summer of 1971, with an unidentified man.

Lou Berger and I with unidentified man Presidential pool 1969-71

Incidentally, there may be no greater, nor more rewarding, set of “rabbit holes” to descend than those offered to Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com subscribers.

And here is where I began to make interesting, only slightly conspiratorial, connections.

In 1950, four years after losing the Democratic nomination for a State Senate seat, Herman and Virginia Modell were living in an upscale West Philadelphia apartment building called Wyngate Hall, on Spruce Street between 49th and 50th Streets. My legal father, his parents and older sister were living less than three blocks south on 49th Street. Wyngate Hall was also only a few blocks south and east of Beth El Congregation, whose Vice President was Morris Berger (and where my legal father had his Bar Mitzvah on Christmas Day, 1948—those were very different times).

I have no idea at what synagogue the Modells prayed in 1950. Beth El Congregation was for Conservative Jews. Modell’s March 1973 obituary reveals that he had once been President of Main Line Reform Temple, also in Wynnewood. Main Line Reform Temple opened in 1952, entering its current building in 1960

Would Modell have switched from a Conservative to a Reform synagogue? Or had he simply switched to a different Reform synagogue when he moved to the Presidential (which sits just across City Avenue from the Main Line suburb of Bala Cynwyd)?

I will likely never know.

Here is what I do know, however.

One of the few things of value I inherited from my legal father when he died in June 1982 (from a massive heart attack at the too-young age of 46) was a beautiful blue-bound Masonic Bible. Its value is not religious (I call myself an Agnostic, though in braver moments I prefer Atheist) so much as personal: it was the Bible he received upon Initiation into the LaFayette Lodge #71, F. & A. M. (Free and Accepted Masons).

Title page of Lou Berger Masonic Bible

Both obituaries I have found for Herman M. Modell emphasize that he was not just a member of LaFayette Lodge #71, F. & A. M., he was a past master[1]. In fact, of all the groups to which Modell belonged, whose members were invited to attend the afternoon funeral services at Main Line Reform Temple, the only one actually specified by name was LaFayette Lodge #71, F. & A. M. This was clearly a vitally important membership for the late Mr. Modell.

Do you think D. Louis Berger attended those services to honor the man who had “managed” the adoption of his beloved son, a man he probably had known since his Masonic “raising” in June 1957?

Until next time…

[1] Yes, I observe that Herman Modell was NOT the master of LaFayette Lodge #71, F. & A. M when my legal father was initiated, passed and raised. However, my father did all of those things soon after his 21st birthday. Apply the same entrance criterion to Modell, and he would have been initiated, passed and raised in 1926.

Where do rank-and-file Democrats (and Independents) stand on issues right now?

In the wake of Democratic underperformance in the 2016 elections (losing the Electoral College, insufficient gains to win back the United States House of Representatives [House] or United States Senate [Senate], net loss of two governorships, hemorrhaging state legislative seats), various “autopsies” were released.

autopsies

Some autopsies reached conclusions that contradicted the finding of other autopsies (likely due to an inherent bias in the group conducting the autopsy). Left-leaning individuals (e.g., Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver) and groups (e.g., Center for American Progress) declared that the Democratic Party needed to be more responsive to its increasingly liberal and progressive base (in primaries, especially). The more centrist Third Way argued that liberals are still outnumbered by moderates and conservatives (though perhaps only in the Rust Belt states [Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin] won by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump). The race to be the next chairperson of the Democratic National Committee was seen as a proxy fight over this division, with Representative Keith Ellison representing the progressives and former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez representing the “establishment.” Perez won, 235-200, then immediately named Ellison deputy chairman in a nod toward party unity.

Other reports differed over whether Democrats should focus more on white men without a college degree or on younger and/or minority voters. I weighed in on this question here.  And the data journalism website FiveThirtyEight.com framed their “post-mortem” in the context of what Democrats would expect in their 2020 president.

Given this apparent divide over the best way for Democrats to proceed, which encompasses everything from messaging to election targeting to fundraising to candidate recruitment, I thought it would be a useful exercise to review what self-identified Democrats actually believe right now (along with the Independents they will need to capture to, say, win back the House in 2018). That is, what issue positions, as measured by available public polling, distinguish a majority of self-identified, rank-and-file Democrats from a majority of self-identified, rank-and-file Republicans? And, in these cases, when do a majority of self-identified, rank-and-file Independents align with the Democrats?

**********

Just bear with me while I review my methodology.

I used all polls available on the Issues page of PollingReport.com. This page breaks down non-partisan, publicly-available, issue-oriented polls into 20 categories: Problems and Priorities, Abortion, Budget and Taxes, Crime, Disaster Preparedness and Relief, Education, Energy, Environment, Food, Foreign Affairs and Defense, Guns, Health Policy, Illegal Drugs, Immigration, Law, LGBT, Race and Ethnicity, Social Security, Space Exploration, Transportation. Some categories, such as Foreign Affairs and Defense, have subcategories (e.g., Isis and Terrorism).

For each issue, I collected all polls for which partisan breakdowns (Democrat, Republican, Independent) were provided, going back (when necessary) to the summer of 2014. In this way I balance opinion recency with the desire to review as wide an array of specific issues as possible, while also capturing data from both the Trump presidency and the preceding Barack Obama presidency.

There are three important caveats about these data.

One, poll respondents sometimes choose issue positions based on their partisan identification (as opposed to holding an independent, a priori position). An example of this is a November 2015 poll[1] asking respondents whether the unemployment rate had increased or decreased under President Obama. A bare majority, 53% of Republicans said it had increased, while 76% of Democrats correctly answered that it had decreased. The opinions of Independents were not provided.

A related caveat is that partisan positioning may have shifted over time, particularly following the 2016 presidential election.

Two, these are national polls and thus cannot be used to divine partisan issue divides in specific states or Congressional Districts.

Three, issue preference distinctions between parties may mask key distinctions within parties, such as on abortion.

Issues are presented in no particular order. If polls were conducted across multiple months, I use the last month the poll was in the field.

**********

Income inequality. Democrats (87%, vs. 11% opposed, +76) and Independents (60%, +31) felt in 2015[2] that wealth is not fairly distributed among Americans, that the federal government should seek remedies (D 81%, +66; I 54%, +13), including increasing taxes on the wealthy[3] (D 84%, +72; I 63%, +32); smaller majorities of Republicans do not see this inequality (51%, +9) and oppose governmental remedies (64%, +30), including higher taxes (55%, +17).

Environment. Democrats and Independents strongly support the Paris] Agreement, oppose federal support for coal mining, believe climate change is man-made and support government intervention to reverse it. Smaller majorities of Republicans are more skeptical of climate change, support economic growth over environmental protection and oppose government intervention to reverse climate change/reduce global warming.

Reality of climate change. Democrats (80%, +61 relative to “About the same”) and Independents (54%, +13) felt in April 2017[4] that there had been “More extreme or unusual weather in the United States” in the past few years, while Republicans (60%, +33) thought it had been “About the same.”

Government role in fighting climate change. An April 2017 poll[5] found that 91% (+84) of Democrats and 73% of Independents (+49) were OPPOSED to “significantly cutting for scientific research on the environment and climate change, while 50% (+5%) of Republicans felt the opposite.

When asked in September 2014 which should receive higher priority, environmental protection or economic growth, 63% of both Democrats (+29) and Independents (+32) prioritized the environment, while a bare majority of Republicans (51%, +11) chose economic growth.

Coal production and fossil fuels. An April 2017 poll[6] found a deep partisan divide, perhaps driven by President Trump’s vociferous support for coal miners, over whether the federal government should encourage or discourage coal production. Democrats (80%, +66) and Independents (58%, +23), seeking to protect the environment, strongly favored “discourage,” while Republicans (69%, +50), seeking to protect coal jobs and the economy, strongly favored “encourage.” Still, this is not likely to be a winning issue for Democrats in coal-producing states such as West Virginia, which Trump won by 41.7 percentage points.

When asked in April 2016[7], 71% (+48) and 56% (+21) of Independents thought it would be a good idea for colleges and universities to stop investing in fossil fuels to reduce “global warming.” A majority of Republicans (55%, +18) disagreed.

Paris Agreement. In December 2015[8], Democrats were overwhelmingly in favor (86%, +77) of the United States joining “an international treaty requiring America to reduce emissions in an effort to fight global warming,” with Independents only slightly less enthusiastic (66%, +41). Republicans, while opposed, were far more evenly divided (52%, +10).

However, in what could be an electoral artifact, by June 2017 a clear majority of Republicans (68%, +47; averaging three polls[9]) supported President Trump’s announced withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, while 85% (+78) of Democrats and 62% (+33%) of Independents were opposed.

Planned Parenthood. In a September 2015 poll[10], 82% (+70) of Democrats and 56% (+19) of Independents supported federal government support for Planned Parenthood. Technically, there were “opposed to cutting off” these funds. Republicans (71%, +46) preferred to cut off the funds.

Gun control/rights. There is near-unanimity across all partisan groups for universal background checks and preventing terrorists from acquiring guns, although when either issue is framed as something supported by President Obama, Republican support plummets. For some additional context, please see this post.

Gun sales. Between July 2015 and April 2017, CBS News asked[11] six times whether gun sales should be made more strict, less strict or kept as they are; for ease of presentation, I combined response for “less strict” and “kept as they are.” On average, 78% (+58) of Democrats thought gun laws should be made more strict; only 51% (+6) of Independents concurred. A solid 64% (+30) of Republicans, meanwhile, felt that gun laws should either be kept as they are (48%) or made less strict (16%). These results echo a June 2017 poll[12] in which 80% (+62) of Democrats and 54% (+12) of Independents support stricter gun control laws, with 68% (+41) of Republicans opposed.

Personal safety. Two polls (July 2016,[13] June 2017[14]), asked whether more guns or fewer guns would make the United States safer. Allowing for slight question wording differences: an average 82% (+70) of Democrats 50% (+10) of Independents said more guns would NOT make us safer; an average 70% (+48) of Republicans felt the opposite.

Perhaps reflecting the geographic self-segregation of Democrats into more urban areas and Republicans into more exurban and rural areas, Democrats (77%, +62) and Independents (64%, +36) in November 2015 said[15] they were more worried about being the victim of gun violence, while Republicans were more worried (barely: 50%, +5) about a terrorist attack.

Majorities of Democrats (82%, +69) and Independents (57%, +21) in October 2015[16] thought “better gun regulation” would reduce mass shooting, while 59% (+28) of Republicans favored “more people carrying guns.” Similarly, that some month[17], Democrats (79%, +60) and Independents (55%, +17) were opposed to “allowing more teachers and school officials to carry guns in schools,” while Republicans (64%, +30) were in favor.

Health care. Perhaps no issue divides Democrats and Independents from Republicans more than the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more colloquially known as the ACA or Obamacare, despite widespread (if barely among Republicans) agreement that Americans with pre-existing conditions should not be charged more for their health insurance nor should Medicaid enrollment to pre-2010 levels[18]. There was also partisan accord, in February 2015[19], on requiring “parents to vaccinate their children for diseases like measles, mumps, and rubella.”

ACA. A series of polls[20] conducted between May and August 2017 found that nearly all Democrats (85-91%, +77-87) and most Independents (57-65%, +28-41) opposed Republican ideas to repeal-and-replace Obamacare, while Republicans (58-61%, +24-34) mostly favored these ideas.

At the same time, in April and July 2017[21], on average, Democrats (90%, +83) and Independents (69%, +42) overwhelmingly supported making improvements to the ACA. By contrast, Republicans favored (65%, +34) continuing repeal-and-replace efforts. An April 2017 poll[22], conducted before the House approved the American Health Care Act, echoed this sentiment.

Obamacare exchanges. In June 2015[23], “the Supreme Court ruled that government assistance for lower-income Americans buying health insurance through both state-operated and federally-operated health insurance exchanges is legal.” Two polls conducted that month[24] found that, on average, Democrats (84%, +72) and Independents (67%, +20) favored this governmental largesse, while Republicans were (barely) opposed (52%, +10).

Single payer/Medicare-for-all. An series of polls in June and August 2017 poll[25] found that, on average, most Democrats (75%, +59) and a majority of Independents (56%, +22) favored the expansion of Medicare to cover all Americans, with 60% (+29) of Republicans opposed.

Marijuana legalization. Three polls conducted between January 2014 and August 2017[26] found a strong partisan divide: on average, 63% (+31) of Democrats and 60% of Independents favored legalization, while 61% (+26) of Republicans were opposed. Interestingly, between 2014 and 2017, overall support for marijuana legalization increased from 51% (+7) to 61% (+28).

Immigration. This is an issue where it is difficult to separate support/opposition for/to President Trump from support/opposition for/to issues associated with him.

Border wall along southern United States border. In February 2017[27], this central tenet of Trump’s presidential campaign was opposed by most Democrats (87%, +70) and Independents (61%, +25) and just as strongly favored by Republicans (77%, +57).

Executive order suspending entrance from seven majority-Muslim nations for 90 days. Trump’s executive order induced a stark partisan divide in early February 2017[28] (Democrats split 88-9% opposed, Republicans split 88-11% in favor), with Independents (51%, +6) just barely in opposition. A similar partisan divide was apparent on the question of a 120-day suspension of all refugee immigration: fully 92% (+84) of Democrats and 64% (+33) of Independents were opposed and 75% (+53) of Republicans were in favor.

When asked in September 2016[29] whether one supported or opposed “a blanket ban on the immigration of any person who lives in a country where there has been a history of terrorism against the west,” 78% (+62) of Democrats and 61% (+32) of Independents were opposed, while 54% (+16) of Republicans supported the idea.

In polls conducted in December 2015[30] and July 2016[31], an average 80% (+64) of  Democrats and 62% (+32) of Independents were opposed to a general Muslim ban, while Republicans (54%, +14) were somewhat in favor[32]. Other polls[33] released during this same time period had similar findings.

Illegal immigration from Mexico. In April 2016[34], when asked whether “you feel your own personal way of life is or is not under threat from illegal immigrants from Mexico,” fully 89% (+80) of Democrats and 68% (+38) of Independents, while Republicans were more evenly divided, 51-46%.

Syrian refugees. In November 2015[35], there was broad agreement (78-15% overall) that Syrian refugees should “go through a stricter security clearance process than they do now.” However, there was a partisan divide on the more general question of Syrian refugees coming to the United States. On average across two polls (November and December 2015[36]), Democrats (64%, +30) and (barely) Independents (50%, +4) were in favor (with the security clearance caveat cited above) and Republicans (72%, +48) were not in favor. And in September 2015[37], Democrats (69%, +40) and Independents (51%, +8) [38] favored increasing the number of Syrian refugees, while Republicans were opposed (67%, +37).

Islam. In February 2017[39], respondents were asked, “Generally speaking, do you think the Islamic religion encourages violence more than other religions around the world, less than other religions around the world, or about the same as other religions around the world?” Relative to “More,” Democrats (66%, +52) and Independents (53%, +25) chose “About the same;” relative to “About the same,” Republicans (63%, +38) chose “More.”

Use of military force. Going back a few years, a September 2014 poll found that more Democrats (59%, +23) and Independents (57%, +19) described themselves as “doves” (the United States should rarely or never use military force) and more Republicans (69%, +44) described themselves as “hawks” (military force should be used frequently to promote United States policy).

Equal protection under the law. I include here all LGBT and race/ethnicity questions.

Transgender. There is widespread agreement (75-23% overall, according to an April 2016 poll[40]) with “laws that guarantee equal protection for transgender people in jobs, housing and public accommodations.” However, that agreement does not extend to military service. In reaction to President Trump’s tweets about the subject, an August poll[41] found that Democrats (91%, +84) and Independents (72%, +49) strongly favored allowing transgender people to serve in the military, while Republicans (60%, +28) were opposed.

Same sex marriage. In three polls conducted between June and October 2015[42], an average of 67% (+41) of Democrats and 59% (+29) of Independents felt same sex marriage should be legal, with 56% (+20) of Republicans feeling it should not be legal (despite the June 2015 Supreme Court ruling, Obergefell v. Hodges, legalizing same sex marriage in all 50 states).

Religious exemptions. Two April 2015 polls[43] queried the right of businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers on religious grounds, potentially violating anti-discrimination laws. The question wording was slightly different, but on average Democrats (74%, +52) and Independents (60%, 25%) opposed these exemptions and Republicans (62%, +34) supported them.

Voting Rights Act. A February 2015 poll[44] asked whether the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was still necessary “to make sure that blacks are allowed to vote.” There were two interesting divides on this question. First, Democrats (62%, +24) and Independents (52%, +5) thought the VRA was still necessary, while Republicans (61%, +24) did not. Second, and perhaps more telling, fully 76% (+53) of black respondents thought the VRA was still necessary, while white respondents split 48-50 against.

**********

In sum, majorities of rank-and-file Democrats and Independents (in opposition to majorities of rank-and-file Republicans)…

…believe wealth is not fairly distributed among Americans and the federal government should seek remedies, including increasing taxes on the wealthy.

…support the Paris Agreement, oppose federal support for coal mining and believe climate change is both real and man-made (with government intervention required to reverse it).

…strongly support federal funding of Planned Parenthood

…feel gun laws should be more strict, more guns will not make us safer (Independents more evenly divided), more worried about being the victim of gun violence than of terrorism, better gun regulation would reduce mass shooting (not more people carrying guns) and oppose allowing more teachers and school officials to carry guns in schools.

…strongly opposed efforts to repeal-and-replace Obamacare (opting overwhelmingly to fix the law), supported government assistance for lower-income Americans buying health insurance through state and federal health insurance exchange and favored a Medicare-for-all/single payer health insurance system.

…support the legalization of marijuana

…oppose building a wall on the southern border of the United States and any form of “Muslim ban,” feel that illegal immigration from Mexico has not hurt their way of life and support Syrian refugees entering the United States (under stricter security clearance)

…have (relatively) more benign views of Islam

…feel the United States should rarely or never use military force to promote policy.

…support allowing transgender people to serve in the military and same sex marriage, while opposing allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT persons on religious grounds.

…and believe the Voting Rights Act is still necessary to protect ballot access.

Let the campaigns begin!

Until next time…

[1] Bloomberg Politics Poll conducted by Selzer & Company. Nov. 15-17, 2015. N=1,002 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.1.

[2] CBS News Poll. July 29-Aug. 2, 2015. N=1,252 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[3] CBS News/New York Times Poll. Nov. 6-10, 2015. N=1,495 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[4] Quinnipiac University. March 30-April 3, 2017. N=1,171 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9

[5] Quinnipiac University. March 30-April 3, 2017. N=1,171 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9.

[6] Quinnipiac University. March 30-April 3, 2017. N=1,171 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9.

[7] 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair Poll. March 30-April 3, 2016. N=1,010 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 4.

[8] Quinnipiac University. Dec. 16-20, 2015. N=1,140 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9.

[9] NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll. June 21-25, 2017. N=995 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.1; Quinnipiac University. May 31-June 6, 2017. N=1,361 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.2; ABC News/Washington Post Poll. June 2-4, 2017. N=527 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 5

[10] Quinnipiac University. Sept. 17-21, 2015. N=1,574 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.5.

[11] CBS News Poll. April 21-24, 2017. N=1,214 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[12] Quinnipiac University. June 22-27, 2017. N=1,212 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4.

[13] McClatchy-Marist Poll. July 5-9, 2016. N=1,053 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[14] Quinnipiac University. June 22-27, 2017. N=1,212 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4.

[15] McClatchy-Marist Poll. Oct. 29-Nov. 4, 2015. N=1,465 adults nationwide (margin of error ± 2.6), including 1,080 registered voters (± 3).

[16] Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind. Oct. 1-5, 2015. N=771 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 4.2.

[17] CBS News/New York Times Poll. Oct. 21-25, 2015. N=1,289 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 4.

[18] Politico/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. June 14-18, 2017. N=501 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 5.3.

[19] CBS News Poll. Feb. 13-17, 2015. N=1,006 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[20] Quinnipiac University. July 27-Aug. 1, 2017. N=1,125 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4; Kaiser Family Foundation. July 5-10, 2017. N=1,183 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[21] ABC News/Washington Post Poll. April 17-20, 2017. N=1,004 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.5.Margin of error ± 3.4; Kaiser Family Foundation. July 5-10, 2017. N=1,183 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3

[22] Quinnipiac University. April 12-18, 2017. N=1,062 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[23] CNN/ORC Poll. June 26-28, 2015. N=1,017 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[24] CNN/ORC Poll. June 26-28, 2015. N=1,017 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3; CBS News/New York Times Poll. June 10-14, 2015. N=1,007 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[25] Quinnipiac University. July 27-Aug. 1, 2017. N=1,125 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4; Quinnipiac University. June 22-27, 2017. N=1,212 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4.

[26] CBS News Poll. April 8-12, 2015. N=1,012 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.; Quinnipiac University. July 27-Aug. 1, 2017. N=1,125 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4.

[27] CBS News Poll. Feb. 17-21, 2017. N=1,280 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[28] Quinnipiac University. Feb. 2-6, 2017. N=1,155 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9.

[29] Monmouth University Poll. Sept. 22-25, 2016. N=802 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.5.

[30] Quinnipiac University. Dec. 16-20, 2015. N=1,140 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9.

[31] CBS News/New York Times Poll. July 8-12, 2016. N=1,358 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[32] By September 2016, opposition to the proposed Muslim ban had ceased to be a partisan issue. A Monmouth University Poll (Sept. 22-25, 2016. N=802 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.5) found Republicans opposed 54-32%.

[33] McClatchy-Marist Poll. July 5-9, 2016. N=1,053 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3;  Quinnipiac University. June 21-27, 2016. N=1,610 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.4; ABC News/Washington Post Poll. Dec. 10-13, 2015. N=1,002 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.5. Across these three polls, average Democratic opposition was 81%, average Independent opposition was 59% and average Republican support was 64%.

[34] Monmouth University Poll. Aug. 4-7, 2016. N=803 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.5.

[35] CBS News Poll. Nov. 19-22, 2015. N=1,205 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[36] CBS News/New York Times Poll. Dec. 4-8, 2015. N=1,275 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[37] Pew Research Center. Sept. 22-27, 2015. N=1,502 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9.

[38] Interestingly, a majority of Independents (58%, +21) in a November 2015 Gallup poll (Nov. 20-21, 2015. N=1,013 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 4) were opposed to the specific number of 10,000 or more refugees proposed.

[39] CBS News Poll. Feb. 1-2, 2017. N=1,019 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 4.

[40] CNN/ORC Poll. April 28-May 1, 2016. N=1,001 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[41] Quinnipiac University. July 27-Aug. 1, 2017. N=1,125 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4.

[42] CBS News/New York Times Poll. Oct. 21-25, 2015. N=1,289 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 4.

[43] Quinnipiac University. April 16-21, 2015. N=1,353 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.7; CNN/ORC Poll. April 16-19, 2015. N=1,018 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[44] CNN/ORC Poll. Feb. 12-15, 2015. N=1,027 adults nationwide (margin of error ± 3), including 733 non-Hispanic whites (± 3.5), and, with an oversample, 309 blacks (± 5.5).